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Criminal Code of Canada

Canada’s Criminal Code is a federal statute. It was enacted by Parliament in accordance with section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to legislate criminal offences in Canada. The Criminal Code contains most of the criminal offences that have been created by Parliament. Other criminal offences have been incorporated into other federal statutes. The Code defines the types of conduct that constitute criminal offences. It establishes the kind and degree of punishment that may be imposed for an offence, as well as the procedures to be followed for prosecution.

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Notwithstanding Clause

Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is known as the notwithstanding clause. Also known as the override clause, it is part of the Constitution of Canada. The clause allows federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override, or bypass, certain Charter rights. These overrides are subject to renewal after five years. Although the clause is available to governments, its use is politically difficult and therefore rare. It is known colloquially as the “nuclear option,” because its use is considered extremely severe. Since the Constitution was patriated in 1982, the clause has been used only a handful of times by various provinces. The federal government has never invoked the clause.

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Federalism in Canada

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and state or provincial legislatures. A true federation, in the modern sense, is a state in which the smaller parts are not sovereign and cannot legally secede. In practice, Canadian federalism has swung between the extremes of centralizing control and decentralizingit. The federal government has jurisdiction over the entire country. Each provincial government has jurisdiction over its portion of the population and region. Both levels of government get their authority from Canada’s written Constitution; but it includes features that are incompatible with a strict approach to federalism. Canadian federalism has been tested throughout the country’s history. It remains a subject of great debate.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)

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Prorogation in Canada

A prorogation is a suspension of Parliament. All parliamentary activity is stopped, but the government remains in power and is not dissolved. Every session of Parliament begins with a summons and ends with prorogation; both are issued by the governor general (or lieutenant-governor at the provincial level) at the government’s request. Throughout Canadian history, governments have at times used prorogation to their own advantage. The main purpose of prorogation is to wipe clean the Order Paper of old or existing business and to set a new legislative agenda. All unfinished business at the end of a session dies on the Order Paper. There are procedures in place to reinstate previous activities in a new session, which begins with a Speech from the Throne.

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Cabinet

In Canada’s parliamentary system of government, the cabinet is the committee of ministers that holds executive power. Cabinets are chaired by the prime minister (or in the provinces, by the premier). Ministers are typically elected politicians drawn from the party holding the most seats in the House of Commons (or the provincial legislature). Cabinets are traditionally strong, consensus-driven bodies; although some believe their influence is waning in the face of powerful prime ministers and their advisers.

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Territorial Government in Canada

Under Canada’s federal system, the powers of government are shared between the federal government, provincial governments and territorial governments. The territories — Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon — are governed by their respective governments. They receive their legislative authority (the ability to create laws) from the federal government. Ottawa has given territorial governments authority over public education, health and social services; as well as the administration of justice and municipal government. More and more of these powers have been handed down from the federal government in a process called devolution. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is the federal ministry responsible for the territories.

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Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or simply the Charter, is the most visible and recognized part of Canada’s Constitution. The Charter guarantees the rights of individuals by enshrining those rights, and certain limits on them, in the highest law of the land. Since its enactment in 1982, the Charter has created a social and legal revolution in Canada. It has expanded the rights of minorities and criminal defendants, transformed the nature and cost of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjected the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny — an ongoing source of controversy.

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Sovereignty

Sovereignty is an abstract legal concept. It also has political, social and economic implications. In strictly legal terms, sovereignty describes the power of a state to govern itself and its subjects. In this sense, sovereignty is the highest source of the law. With Confederation and the passage of the British North America Act, 1867, Canada’s Parliament was still legally under the authority of the British Parliament. By 1949, Canada had become fully sovereign in relation to Great Britain. This was due to landmark legislation such as the Statute of Westminster (1931). The Constitution Act, 1982 swept away Britain’s leftover authority. Questions of sovereignty have also been raised by Indigenous peoples in Canada and by separatists in Quebec. The latter, for a time, championed the concept of sovereignty-association.

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Confederation's Opponents

Opposition to Confederation has existed since a union of British North Americancolonies was first proposed in the late 1840s. In the eastern parts of the country, opponents generally feared that Confederation would strip power from the provincesand hand it to the federal government; or that it would lead to higher taxes and military conscription. Many of these opponents ultimately gave up and even served in the Canadian government. In the West, Indigenous peoples in the Red River Colonywere never asked if they wanted to join Confederation. Fearing for their culture and land rights under Canadian control, they mounted a five-month insurgency against the government. Many Quebec nationalistshave long sought to separate from Confederation, either through the extreme measures of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), or through referenda in 1980 and 1995.